Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Death of Alexander the Great

Alexander depicted during the Battle of Issus, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Napoli

The enthralling denouement of a six-part BBC Radio Drama series of Alexander the Great, which was produced in 1993.

In Babylon, Alexander is lying in the throes of death at the end of a short but spectacular life-span predicted at the time of his birth by the Morai -alternatively known as the Fates- who are a trio of white-robed female incarnations of destiny.

Half in the physical world and half in the spirit world, he ruminates over his life, his conquests and the succession with the ever guiding spirit of Achilles of Troy, the father of his “yearning soul” in contrast to his earthly father and competitor, King Phillip of Macedon.

In this drama, Alexander is sympathetically portrayed as the quintessential Philosopher-King and his fixation with Achilles is a component of the “mythic consciousness” that has driven him to avenge an earlier defeat of the Greeks by the Persians and to conquer almost all of the known world.

And it is Achilles with whom he has communed since childhood, along with Patroculus who tell the story of what happened after Alexander’s death: an orgy of suicides, revenge murders and in-fighting among his generals.

“Who will rule after you?” asks Achilles.
“The best?” responds Alexander.
“There is none”, the spirits of Achilles and Patroclus reply in unison.

Fittingly, Alexander, the King of the Macedons, Leader of the Greeks, Pharaoh of All Egypt, Lord of Persia, and King of Kings, expires smelling of “thyme and roses” and “his flesh does not corrupt”.

No one was able to rule the empire he had built.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)


Alexander's Letter to Darius III After the Battle of Issus

Battle of Issus mosaic, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Napoli

After Alexander’s defeat of Darius III at the Battle of Issus which took place on November 5th 333 B.C., Darius wrote a letter to Alexander which offered to surrender half of his empire. Alexander considered this as not enough. The following is likely inauthentic but conveys the general thrust of how Alexander responded.

Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us harm although we had not done you any previous injury. I have been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks and it is with the aim of punishing the Persians that I have crossed into Asia, since you are the aggressors.

You gave support to the people of Perinthus, who had done my father harm, and Ochus sent a force to Thrace, which was done under our rule. My father died at the hands of conspirators instigated by you as you yourself boasted to everyone in your letters, you killed Arses with the help of Bagoas and gained your throne through unjust means, in defiance of Persian custom and doing wrong to the Persians. You sent unfriendly letters to the Greeks about me, to push them to war against me, and sent money to the Spartans and some other Greeks, which none of the other cities would accept apart from the Spartans. Your envoys corrupted my friends and sought to destroy the peace which I established among the Greeks. I therefore led an expedition against you, and you started the quarrel.

But now I have defeated in battle first your generals and satraps, and now you in person and your army, and by the grace of the gods I control the country. All those who fought on your side and did not die in battle but came over to me, I hold myself responsible for them; they are not on my sided under duress but are taking part in the expedition at their own free will.

Approach me therefore as the lord of all Asia. If you are afraid of suffering harm at my hands by coming in person, send some of your friends to receive proper assurances. Come to me to ask and receive your mother, your children and anything else you wish. Whatever you can persuade me to give shall be yours.

In future whenever you communicate with me, send to me as king of Asia; do not write to me as an equal, but state your demands to the master of all your possessions. If not, I shall deal with you as a wrongdoer. If you wish to lay claim to the title of king, then stand your ground and fight for it; you do not take to flight, as I shall pursue you wherever you may be.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Afrifa: An Appraisal of Ghana's One Time Military Ruler

Brigadier Akwasi Afrifa (1936-1979), Chairman of the National Liberation Council (NLC) of Ghana, seated in Osu Castle, Accra, during the swearing-in ceremony of government ministers of the in-coming civilian administration headed by Dr. Kofi Busia on Friday, September 12th 1969. Source of Photo Still: Reuters News.

Akwasi Afrifa, military officer and political leader of Ghana, is a man whose legacy still polarises his countrymen to this day. Should he be remembered as a principled believer in democratic values who helped rescue Ghana from a “dictator” leading his nation to ruin? Or was he an unscrupulous and ambitious opportunist whose participation in Ghana’s first military coup set a precedent for political instability and corruption?

Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa was born into humble origins in the Ashanti region to a cobbler father he referred to as “a cowardly man” who was “short, bulky and ugly”, and a mother he remembered as a “tall, black and extremely beautiful woman.” He often wondered why his mother had married his father. A bright student, he received a scholarship to attend Adisadel College, an Anglican boys boarding school in the Cape Coast. He excelled academically, and in 1955, collected seven prizes in Latin, Greek, Religious Knowledge, History, English Language and Geography. On hand to present the tall, gangling 19-year-old with his prizes was none other than Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister of the then Gold Coast (as pre-independent Ghana was named), the man who he would help overthrow in a military coup eleven years later.

Afrifa’s choice of a career in the military was not his first. He had intended to be trained in the law, but his expulsion from Adisadel put paid to those aspirations. In The Ghana Coup: 24th February 1966, a part memoir that served as his justification for the anti-Nkrumah coup, Afrifa claimed that his expulsion was for failing to take Religious Knowledge among the minimum six academic subjects in his final examinations. But the true reason was that Afrifa had led a student protest which had led to riotous acts including vandalism.

Afrifa entered the military and received training at Sandhurst Military Academy in England where the Adisadel website records that “he was listed among the best three of those cadets (drawn from various parts of the Commonwealth and other countries) who graduated and passed out as Second-Lieutenant(s) after the course.”

Afrifa was undoubtedly a bright and engaging individual, but at Sandhurst, as had occurred at Adisadel, there was a dark side to his personality; one which revealed his tendency to arrogance and resistance to authority. In The Ghana Coup, he candidly revealed his time at Sandhurst was consistently punctuated by punishment drills for various disciplinary infractions. He wrote:

I was always in trouble for breach of discipline. Almost every Wednesday I had an extra drill. Because I had so many punishment drills, I made my study timetable larger than usual in order to enter my defaulter drills into blank spaces. My punishment parades thus became a normal routine every morning.

His last punishment drill as a senior cadet was, he admitted “a very unusual occurrence.”

These brief glimpses into his formative years provide clues as to how Afrifa was able to rise to the pinnacle of political power, as well as offer some explanation as to why his life was prematurely ended on a military firing range.

A brief summary of his life and career after Sandhurst goes like this: As a young officer, he served several tours of duty as part of the Ghanaian Army’s peacekeeping contribution to the Congo. He grew disenchanted with the left-wing policies of the Nkrumah government, which he posited as being antithetical to the (British) values with which he had been inculcated.

As a major, he was a key participant in the anti-Nkrumah putsch of 1966 which was led by Colonel Emmanuel Kotoka. He consolidated his positions in both the military and the National Liberation Council (NLC) as the ruling junta styled itself, after the assassination of Kotoka in April 1967 during an abortive coup, and after the resignation of Lt. General Joseph Ankrah in April 1969, he became the Head of State.

He completed the NLC’s programme of transferring power to an elected civilian government led by Dr. Kofi Busia, during which for about a year, he served as one of a three-man Presidential Commission in lieu of a civilian president before the commission’s dissolution and his retirement from the military a year later. On his retirement he received the title of Okatakyie, a rarely bestowed award to a member of the Ashanti people who has demonstrated an exceptional level of bravery from the Ashantehene, Opoku Ware II.

In the days following Busia’s overthrow in January 1972 by Lt. Colonel Ignatius Acheampong, Afrifa attempted to mount a counter-coup to restore Busia, but was foiled and jailed by Acheampong.

Afrifa was subsequently released by Acheampong in December 1972, but appears to have been restricted to the vicinity of his hometown of Mampong-Ashanti where he farmed and involved himself in rural development projects. At some point his army pension appears to have been suspended by the Acheampong regime and in an article in the Tampa Bay Times of July 1st 1979, his brother-in-law, John Addaquay, claimed that Afrifa, together with his family, had gone into exile in London.  Afrifa, Addaqay continued, returned after Acheampong’s overthrow in July 1978 by a palace coup led by Lt. General Frederick Akuffo. Afrifa contested a seat and won it in parliamentary elections held in June 1979, but was executed along with two other Heads of State, Acheampong and Akuffo that month by edict of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which had come to power after an uprising by junior personnel within the Ghanaian military. Each had been found guilty of “corruption, embezzlement and using their positions to amass wealth.”

In a letter written to Acheampong while Acheampong was campaigning for UNIGOV, a form of government involving a combination of military and civilian rule, Afrifa had prophesied his own demise when in a letter to Acheampong, he had remarked on the levels of indiscipline and corruption among Ghana’s military rulers, and expressed a fear that he and other military rulers would be lined up and shot as a warning to others not to stage coups. “I feel greatly disturbed about the future,” Afrifa wrote. “In order to discourage the military from staging coups in the future, how about if they line all of us up and shot us one by one?”

What then to make of the legacy of this man whose life and eventual fate serves as a point of polarising contention?

After his death, the New York Times reported that he was “highly regarded among Western diplomats for his dynamism, his political skills, and his democratic views”. A good case can be made for Afrifa as a “democrat”, if one is prepared to accept his argument that he only helped to overthrow the government led by Kwame Nkrumah as a last resort. Here Afrifa could point to a drift towards authoritarianism by Dr. Nkrumah by referring to a series of developments such as the passage of the Preventative Detention Act, the One-Party State referendum, the dismissal of Ghana’s Chief Justice and other judges, as well as the apparent interference with judicial decisions. There were also issues to do with academic freedom in the universities.

Moreover, Afrifa presided over the return to civilian rule after spearheading a nationwide campaign to inform Ghanaians of their rights as citizens. Even the failed counter-coup he mounted against Acheampong could be interpreted as a measure attempting to restore democratic rule and not to usurp power for himself.

But the negative side is worth noting. To some he appears to have been an inveterate schemer from his youth and a manipulator whose machinations came to haunt him. He was undoubtedly an ambitious man, although some are keen to invest him with Machiavellian-like powers for intrigue that lack proof in a number of events. For instance, the frequently bandied allegation that he was the author of the abortive coup led by Lt. Samuel Arthur deliberately set up to fail after the elimination of his NLC colleagues, Kotoka and Ankrah seems rather fanciful. While Kotoka was assassinated by Lt. Moses Yeboah, Ankrah succeeded in escaping death at Castle Osu by jumping into the Atlantic Ocean. But even if the case can be made that Afrifa consolidated his power base and profited from Kotoka’s death and Ankrah’s later resignation, hard evidence available in the public domain is lacking which points to his having engineered both outcomes. 

The contention that Afrifa was personally corrupt is not conclusive. He was after all cleared by the Sowah Assets Commission which reported in April 1979 prior to the parliamentary elections in which he was a contestant. But uncertainty as to whether he enriched himself while in power does not diminish what Afrifa’s critics claim to be his cardinal sin; that of participating in the overthrow of the constitutional government of Ghana, an action which established a dangerous precedent which was followed by other coups including those that led to an extended period of incompetent military rule in the 1970s which created unbearable living conditions for many Ghanaians.

John Stockwell, the CIA Station Chief in Accra at the time of the anti-Nkrumah coup specifically stated that the leaders of the coup were not only given “encouragement” once their plot was discovered by the Americans, but that they were paid in compensation for their efforts.

While his execution may have had much to do with the fear or apprehension junior officers had of him, Afrifa’s detractors hold that it was legally justified on the grounds that overthrowing a government, an act of high treason, was a capital offence by virtue of the Ghana Criminal Code of 1960. The Armed Forces Act of 1962, which was in operation at the time of the coup, also provided the basis for punishing by death those who acted treasonably. In his aforementioned book on the coup, Afrifa acknowledged this by writing that he would have been prepared to hang by the neck if the putsch had failed.

Apart from this legal rationale, Afrifa’s execution, some contend, was also morally justifiable because it served as a precedent for establishing or attempting to establish illegal, unconstitutional regimes. The abortive coup led by Lt. Arthur, who resented the profligacy of the senior officers after they overthrew Nkrumah, was an enterprise of emulation backed by the rationale of “If it is proper for you to seize power by the gun, why is it wrong for me, with my gun to overthrow you?” Afrifa was certainly conscious of the precedent that he had helped set when in the chapter of his book entitled “The Ghana Condition”, he asserted that “a corporal with the necessary courage and belief and love of his country can topple corrupt leaders and lead a coup in a just cause.” But he failed to acknowledge or even comprehend that corporals, subalterns and officers could have amoral reasons for staging a coup. Arthur’s coup, which Arthur dubbed “Operation Guitar Boy” appears to have been bereft of any ideological motivation, (it did not aim to bring Dr. Nkrumah back to power or establish a particular form of governance) instead it was an ego-driven enterprise that aimed not only to settle his grievance against the senior officers, but also to earn the accolade of being the first subaltern to successfully lead a coup.

And even where the soldier with a gun perceives his moral right to seize power, there is an inherent contradiction. Thus, Afrifa’s simultaneous acknowledgement of the coup d’├ętat as a bad thing, while considering it as an effective mechanism for restoring the constitutional rights of citizens can be viewed as fundamentally flawed.

While Afrifa’s role in steering Ghana back to a constitutional democracy is rightly lauded, the argument that the NLC put the country back on a solid economic footing is a hugely contentious one. A key aspect toward remedying what they asserted was the economic mess into which Nkrumah had plunged Ghana was to seek closer relations with the United States and the rest of the Western world.

Afrifa was key to this strategy. His book, which the journalist R.Y. Adu-Asare claimed was ghost-written by Kofi Awoonor, the author, who started it, and Kofi Busia who completed it, was an exercise in unrestrained pro-Western sentiment. Afrifa’s strategy of consistently waxing lyrical about his love of British values alongside his constant ridiculing and demonising of Nkrumah, for whom the West had no love, arguably strays into the obsequious.

While it is understandable that a person like Afrifa by virtue of his Anglican education, British military training and circumstances of living in a British colony would, for better or for worse, be inculcated with a good measure of British culture (his love of Magna Carta and British notions of “fair play”), his assertion that he and other Ghanaians would be minded to fight alongside Britain “as Canadians and Australians have” is striking. One of the grievances members of the Ghanaian Army had against Nkrumah was claimed to be his decision to put them on standby to fight in Rhodesia. Afrifa expressed this view, but conveniently ignored the fact that Britain was operating a “Kith and Kin” policy in relation to the white minority in that country. UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) was after all a rebellion against the authority of the crown. Instead, Afrifa naively expressed his confidence that Britain would find a solution to the issue.

The pivot towards the West thus appeared to be as extreme as Nkrumah’s detractors claimed was his gravitation towards China and the Eastern Communist bloc of nations. As early as March 1966, Robert W. Komer of the United States National Security Council informed President Lyndon Johnson that the NLC was “extremely pro-Western”. This was of course no surprise given the fact that the anti-Nkrumah conspirators who included Afrifa had given the CIA Station in Accra regular updates as to the progress of their enterprise.

But this treasonous conduct (as their critics often point out) and the close relations pursued after their assumption of power, paid little dividend. The NLC slavishly backed the United States in the United Nations over unpopular adventures such as the Vietnam war and received some aid and loans, but was disappointed at the scope of aid requested, particularly that to do with military assistance. Relations with the United States deteriorated because of the differences that materialised over the issue of decolonisation in Portuguese Africa and policy towards Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia. Further, it failed to reach a cocoa agreement with Ghana. Ever dependent on the volatile cocoa market, the Ghanaian economy continued in its parlous state at the time Afrifa handed power over to the civilian government headed by Kofi Busia. Thus, Afrifa and his colleagues arguably only made themselves as subservient to the United States and the West as they claimed Nkrumah made himself subservient to the communist world with little reward.

Afrifa, who pronounced himself as a man committed to social order and who submitted himself to a career that mandated obedience to authority, was also a man with a capacity for rebellion. His expulsion from college, his disciplinary issues at Sandhurst, his facing a court-martial at the time of the February coup, his participation in that coup and his involvement in the attempted counter-coup of 1972 all attest to this. A bright and charismatic man, he also accommodated a healthy ego. Were his rapid promotions from major to colonel and then brigadier merely maintaining a rank in proportion to his burgeoning responsibilities? Or were they an exercise in hubris? He appears to have been a brigadier at the time of the hand over to civilian power, but in retirement was referred to as a lieutenant general - all before he had reached his 35th birthday.

The swiftness by which Afrifa and the others were executed suggests that he was not granted natural justice, albeit that military commissions even when properly constituted are inherently weighted against the defendant. His relative Addaquay recalled in 1979 that he “was arrested on Friday, jailed and shot at dawn on Tuesday morning.”

It has also been suggested that the legal justification for Afrifa’s execution trumpeted by Major Kofi Boakye-Gyan at the National Reconciliation hearings in the early 2000s were merely an afterthought, given that the bulletins issued to the press by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council in 1979 made no explicit references to the Criminal Code (1960), the Armed Forces Act (1962) and the Superior Order Rule attendant to the Armed Forces regulation which Boakye-Gyan insisted were brought to his attention at the time after consulting widely with figures such as Colonel Peter Agbeko, the head of the Armed Forces Legal Services Directorate; Justice Mills Odoi, the Advocate-General of the Armed Forces; and Justice Austin Amissah, an eminent jurist.

Among his admirers, and the critics of the AFRC’s decision to execute him, are those who suspect a tribal motive in targeting Afrifa. Aside from considering Afrifa’s elimination as an insult to the Ashanti nation which had given him one of its highest titles, they see the half-Ewe Jerry Rawlings as being the instrument of vengeance for periodic episodes in Ghana’s history where Ewe power and influence has ebbed. Although Afrifa did not strike many as a man who was overtly tribally motivated -an accusation often leveled at the late Kotoka who was an Ewe- the aftermath of Kotoka’s death during which time Afrifa expanded his power base is perceived by many Ewes as a time when Ewe influence diminished. There had been a resurgence of Ewe’s within the corridors of power while Kotoka was alive after complaints of their marginalisation during the Nkrumah era.

Divisions among the members of the NLC during the transition to civilian government was noted by analysts who observed that Afrifa’s favoured politician was Kofi Busia, like him an Ashanti, while John Harlley, the NLC’s Vice Chairman favoured Komla Gbedemah, a fellow Ewe. The hand of Afrifa in helping engineer the decision to disqualify Gbedemah cannot be dismissed given the assessment of objective analysts that the use of the clause to effect the disqualification (on the grounds that he had misused public funds) was a device employed to neutralise a potential rival to Busia, Afrifa’s preferred candidate. Afrifa, as Suzanne Cronji reminded in an opinion piece in the London Observer in August 1970, had “always been connected with the prosperous Ashanti cocoa farmers –that section of Ghana’s population which most resented Nkrumah’s Socialist rule.”

Akwasi Afrifa died a villain's death, executed like a common criminal at a firing range and buried unceremoniously in a prison cemetery. But while his detractors view him with disdain as a consummate operator in the dark arts of political subterfuge and manipulation, he was clearly not a bloodthirsty Machiavellian who insisted on preserving his power as a head of state by murder and instituting a reign of terror as did Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia and Moussa Traore of Mali.

Claims that Afrifa was a coup-plotter who was essential a democrat do not ring as hollow as those made by the widow of the Chilean Air Force General, Gustavo Leigh Guzman who was a member of the junta which staged the violent overthrow of the Marxist-orientated government of Salvador Allende before inaugurating an era of widespread human rights abuse. But Afrifa did not have ‘clean hands’ in so far as the abuse of human rights is concerned: evidence was given at the National Reconciliation hearings of his supervision of the torture of members of President Nkrumah’s Presidential Detail Department (PDD). Afrifa “could not have been my hero” wrote R.Y. Adu-Asare in 2002 because, Adu-Asare charged, he had sanctioned to killing of one Brigadier Bawah, the commander of Nkrumah’s presidential guard, and, allegedly, members of Bawah’s household.

Moreover, the background to Afrifa’s execution, dominated by a groundswell of public anger and disgust at Ghana’s military rulers cannot be ignored. The executions, which were part of what the AFRC termed a ‘House Cleaning’ operation, were met with popular approval by the media, public organisations and individuals. For instance, the June 24th editorial of the Catholic Standard, which was titled “The Great Lesson” approved of the first batch of executions which it applauded as “a means of instilling discipline and justice” in the country.

Earlier, an editorial in the June 4th edition of the Ghanaian Times urged the AFRC not to limit the scope of its House Cleaning to 1972, the year in which Colonel Acheampong seized power, but to hold to account what it described as “the many rogues who have committed economic crimes against the nation” to an earlier time frame. The editorial made it clear that “in looking behind 1972, we are not interested in picking on any individual or group.” 

The AFRC did cast its net further back, and as a compromise between the opposing views of whether civilian collaborators (and police personnel) should be included among those against whom serious measures should be taken, those senior members who served in Ghana’s first military government came into its crosshairs. Kotoka was dead, General Albert Ocran had fled into exile and Ankrah was excused for not having been a participant in the 1966 coup (he had been invited to head the government before being forced to resign), so Afrifa alone from that era was made to pay the price.  

Afrifa’s participation in the coup against Dr. Nkrumah had opened up a can of worms, and his justifications, no matter how well-meaning and seemingly well-reasoned, essentially posited a counter-intuitive logic that treason could prosper by ceasing to be treason.

It is worth bearing all of this in mind when assessing the legacy of Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa. The truth, as in most cases, lies somewhere in-between the extreme narratives of demonisation and hagiography.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is based in London, England. He has a keen interest in history and geo-politics.


Sunday, 27 October 2019

The Enduring Fela - "Alu Jon Jonki Jon"

Etching of Fela by the Chicago Tribune in 1977

An instrumental cover of Fela Kuti’s “Alu “Jon Jonki Jon” by Michael Leonhart Orchestra evokes an old Yoruban fable and confirms the enduring appeal of Fela’s music.

The lyrics to the track “Alu Jon Jonki Jon” from the 1973 album Afrodisiac by Fela Kuti were derived from an old Yoruban folktale. The fable was about how during a famine in the animal kingdom, all the animals killed their mothers for food except the dog who hid his mother in heaven, that is “Aja gbe ti e, o d’orun”.

The lyrics earned Fela one of the many aliases with which he was bestowed by his fans, this one, “Omo Iya Aje” (“Child of a Witch”), went together with “Chief Priest”, “Black President”, “Abami Eda” (“Strange One”) and others.

Fela (1938-1997) was, along with drummer Tony Oladipo Allen, the inventor of the syncretic genre of music called “Afro-Beat”. His influence on other Nigeria, West African and African musicians of the 1970s was palpable and he attracted the attention and admiration of rock musicians such as Ginger Baker who opened a studio in Lagos and recorded music with Fela. Paul McCartney was reportedly moved to tears by the power of his music and many years later could play note-for-note a tune he heard Fela perform during his visit to Nigeria in 1973 to record his album Band on the Run. The song was “Why Black Man De Suffer”.

Today, Fela’s genre of music is not only continued by the still active Tony Allen and Fela’s sons Seun and Femi, but by groups from all over the world such as Antibalas, New Ben, Chopteeth Afro-Funk Band, and Albinoid Afro-Beat Orchestra.

Abami Eda lives!

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.



Monday, 21 October 2019

Tulsi Gabbard and the Cost of Exposing American Militarism

Major Tulsi Gabbard of the Hawaii Army National Guard at the ceremony at which she was promoted from the rank of captain. She is the serving representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district

Tulsi Gabbard, one of the candidates competing to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, has been particularly prominent in the American and global news media over the past few days. Her views in relation to America’s enduring policy of effecting “regime change” in foreign nations has provoked a storm of controversy in her country, bringing forth bitter criticism. Gabbard has even been denounced as a “Russian asset” for arguing against American interventionism. The furore is quite revealing on several levels. For one, it yet again exposes a shocking embrace for interventionist wars by members of the liberal elite. It also reveals a disturbing tactic utilised by politicians and the mainstream press to label those who do not toe the establishment line on military policy as traitorous. Above all, it also exposes a fundamental defect in the American political discourse; that is the lack of a genuine national dialogue on the underlying reasons for the drift towards American militarism after the end of the Cold War, and the entrenchment of this militarism after the attacks of September 11th 2001.

To get to the heart of the matter as I see it, Tulsi Gabbard is one of the few high profile American politicians to have addressed the publically undebated phenomenon of America’s endless wars. The United States has never had a public debate related to what retired General Wesley Clark referred to as “a policy coup” in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11th at which point according to Clark, a group of “hard-nosed people took control of policy in the United States.”

Since then, America, under the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), has attacked Iraq under false pretences, engineered the destabilisation of Libya and sought to do the same to Syria. The modus operandi utilised against both Libyan and Syrian governments; like Saddam-era Iraq secular in nature, was through Islamist proxies, that is, militias professing the ideology of those claimed to have been responsible for the 9/11 atrocities.

The amorality of these tactics and techniques are never seriously questioned in the media and by legislative institutions even though they have been conducted in plain view such as the visits to eastern Libya and Syria by the late Senator John McCain or where admissions have been made by high-profile politicians such as former Vice President Joseph Biden and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who revealed the help given by America’s regional allies to Jihadist groups.

In identifying the pattern of “regime change wars” in which she has served in the US Army, Gabbard has presented an opportunity for America to come to grips with the underlying reasons for the germination of this militarism which has been fueled to a large extent by the military industry and lobbies associated with the State of Israel.

But this cannot be achieved where the modus operandi of her political opponents and journalists working for the mainstream press constrict the parameters of debate by not only propagating false narratives of how America’s recent wars have been initiated, but also by smearing those who advocate a fresh approach to American policy. Just as Donald Trump’s announced intention to seek a rapprochement with Russia was met by the weaving of the false narrative of “Russia-gate” which included allegations of collusion with the Russian state to undermine the democratic process, Gabbard has been referred to as a “Russian asset”.

That the use of a smear involving Russia can still have any currency after the thorough debunking of “Russia-gate”, which any objective researcher would have known from the outset had little merit, demonstrates how once again political tribalism and geopolitical illiteracy, both facilitated by mainstream media propaganda, have triumphed over reason.

To her credit, Gabbard has hit back at what she described as “a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation.” And in issuing a stern rebuke to Hilary Clinton who had made a veiled reference to Gabbard as a candidate being groomed by the Russians to run as a third party candidate, she identified what she described as Clinton’s “proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine” as been at the root of these smears.

The significant word used by Gabbard is “corporate”. For it addresses the question of the control exerted on US politicians by corporate entities linked to Wall Street and the military industry who fund them. These interests also clearly have the ability to influence the corporatised American media which today is dominated by five corporations.

So compromised is the mainstream media and the politicians that the American public have never been given a comprehensively articulated picture of the origins of America’s post-Cold War militarism in terms of conception and chronology. This would necessitate a reference to the application of the “Wolfowitz Doctrine”, by which is meant the policy objective after the fall of the Soviet Union of aggressively deploying America’s military resources to reshape the world during the ensuing power vacuum before the emergence of a global competitor.

It would also involve a careful scrutiny of the tentacles of the military industry, as well as a precise and frank inquiry into the workings of the “Deep State”. It is clearly the case that the policy of war has been an essentially unchanging one from one administration to the next. Thus, Michael J. Glennon, a professor of international law at Tufts University, has posited a scenario in which actors belonging to what he terms “Trumanite” institutions have usurped power from the trioka of “Madisonian” institutions of state, the latter which he argues are no longer accountable in the manner people think they are.

The time is long overdue for a national dialogue in which politicians, journalists and academics address this fundamental shortcoming of American foreign policy: that the purpose of the military is to deter conflict and not to start wars by invading countries and instituting regime change by covert means. Failure to do this only serves to perpetuate the costs to America, both in terms of adding to its spiralling sovereign debt and the undermining of its moral prestige and authority among the global community of nations.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi (1942–2011)

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi was a young Libyan army officer who overthrew King Idris in September 1969.  Infused with revolutionary ideas designed to modernise his nation and work towards a greater union of Arab peoples, he transformed his country into a new breed socialist state called a Jamahiriya in 1977.

Over the years, he achieved a great deal, using Libya’s oil revenues to facilitate the establishment of free health care, housing projects, as well as the construction of the “Great Man-Made River”.

His rule was authoritarian in nature. He had no compunction about jailing his political opponents and even organised assassination squads to take out dissidents living in exile in parts of Europe.

Under him Libya was a secular state hostile to the spread of the sort of Islamism that had begun to lay deep roots in the Arab world after the failure of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Pan-Arab dream. After his coming to power, Gaddafi earned a reputation as an adventurer and even a troublemaker. Early into his reign, he had several border disputes with his neighbours in Egypt and Chad, and fell out with many Arab leaders one of whom, Sudan’s Gaafar an-Nimeiry, once described him as “a split personality -both evil.”

Under him, Libya became a pariah state among Western countries, because of his support for radical liberation movements and the incidents such as the shooting of the British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher and the blame attached to him after the Lockerbie bombing.

His frustration at being rebuked by many Arab states, many of who were beholden to his sworn enemies, the Wahhabist rulers of Saudi Arabia lay perhaps with his decision to cultivate more substantive links with countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

He mended fences with the West and was in the midst of a rapprochement when the Western powers in the form of NATO facilitated an Islamist-led insurrection in the city of Benghazi which led to an air campaign designed not only to degrade the ability of his army to contain the rebellion, but to destroy the country which because of its relatively high standard of living, had often been referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa.”

Gaddafi, it appears was earmarked for destruction because he was the driving force behind a plan to develop an African currency which would be independent of the imperial dollar.

The results of his deposing were far reaching. Libya was transformed into a failed state with warring tribal groups vying for power. Slave markets sprang up and its seaports became the staging post for an onslaught of refugees from Africa, the Middle East and further afield, seeking to reach the shores of Europe. What is more, the fall of the Libyan army whose armouries were raided led to a transfer of weapons to the NATO and Gulf-backed Islamist rebels seeking to destroy the Ba’athist government of Syria. And alongside the developing Syrian tragedy, the availability of weapons Gaddafi’s military led to an escalation of jihadist insurgencies in the Maghreb and Lake Chad regions respectively by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram.

The tragedy of Libya, with its descent into lawlessness after Gaddafi’s brutal demise at the hands of Western-backed rebels, is somewhat emblematic of the fate suffered by countries such as Iraq and Syria, like Libya secular states, whose rulers were determined by Western governments to be far too independent, as well as being implacable foes of the State of Israel.

He was a dictator for sure, but the consequences of his removal from power only served to worsen the spectrum of conflicts and security spanning a number of regions.

It was in the final analysis a serious and costly mistake.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. 

Saturday, 19 October 2019

"No Angels": Kurdish Militias, "Betrayal" and the Campaign to Destroy Syria

Map depicting concentrations of Kurdish populations within Syria and in neighbouring countries

It is presently fashionable, but totally erroneous to aver that the Kurds have been “betrayed”. The truth is that the Kurds and the Americans have used each other for their mutual ends in the Syrian War, a catastrophe orchestrated by the United States and its regional allies Saudi Arabia and the State of Israel.

For the Saudis, the animus against the Assad government is based on the fact that it is ruled by what is considered by mainstream Sunni Muslims to be a heretical minority, the Alawites, whose alliance with Shia Iran poses a threat to Saudi influence in the Muslim Arab world.

And for the Israelis, it is the threat posed by the Triple Entente of Iran, Syria and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, an alliance that is sometimes referred to as the “Shia Crescent”. The destabilisation and the destruction of Syria would, from Israel’s perspective, have achieved three goals. Firstly, the weakening of Iranian influence in the region. Secondly, the isolating of Hezbollah, the militant Shia group created out of the embers of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s, which was responsible for the Jewish state’s withdrawal from the south of that country on two occasions. It is Hezbollah that has prevented the longstanding goal of colonising Lebanon south of the Litani River. Thirdly, a fractured Syria would from an Israeli view mean that no successor state would make a legal claim for the restoration of the Golan Heights, which was illegally annexed in 1981.

The object of Israel has always been to balkanise its Arab Muslim neighbours, and the enduring influence of its lobby in the United States is the overriding factor in this enterprise which provided the Saudis with the role of funding the anti-Assad jihadist insurrection begun in 2011. Israel, for its part, provided medical, logistical and financial assistance to a number of these jihadi fanatics and struck at Assad’s forces to weaken the Syrian effort in confronting them.

It is useful to be reminded of a declassified U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document circulated in 2012 which explicitly sought the creation of a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria. The so-called Islamic State (IS) and other Islamist-orientated militias functioned as the U.S.’s proxy army to achieve this end.

But Russian intervention with the help of Iranian soldiers and Hezbollah -all invited onto Syrian soil by the legitimate government of the country- beat back the threat posed by IS. The Americans, whose presence in parts of Syria is illegal, reacted by arming, training and supplying Kurdish militias such as the YPG to continue the quest of creating a statelet in oil-endowed eastern Syria.

Those who are versed in the history of the region know that the Turks will not tolerate the creation of an independent Kurdish state on its border. Moreover, members of the Syrian-based YPG also operate as guerrillas for the Turkish-based PKK, a group designated by the Turks as well as the U.S. and the EU as a terrorist organisation.

The Turks are of course no innocents in regard to the Syrian War. They were part of the original U.S.-Saudi-Israeli effort to overthrow the Assad government. Turkey provided a route through which jihadist fighters could infiltrate Syria’s borders. The Turkish Army High Command furnished these mercenaries with encampments and training facilities, and as IS began carving out its U.S. approved principality in eastern Syria, the Turks facilitated the establishment of this nascent caliphate by buying oil exploited from oil fields previously developed by the Syrian national government. Indeed, many will recall the role played by members of the Erdogan family in this illicit trade.

But while the Turks, like the U.S., the Saudis and the Israelis are no innocents in the enterprise that was geared towards destroying the Ba’athist government of Syria, President Donald Trump described the Kurds as being “no angels”.

Do the Kudish militias have clean hands? An examination of the facts reveals that they do not. For during the quest to carve out a seperate, autonomous territory in eastern Syria (Kurds represent just 8% of the population of Syria), Kurdish militias ethnically cleansed the region of its Arab Muslim population and murdered Christian Assyrian communities. As noted earlier on, their primary role was to carve out a chunk of territory and the decision to arm Syrian Kurds taken by Trump in 2017 because it was seen as the fastest way to seize Raqqa, the capital of the proclaimed caliphate. It was a decision of course which drew opposition from Turkey.

The irony is that the Kurds would have been on more secure footing had they joined forces with the legal, secular government of Syria in fighting the locally-bred jihadists, as well as the imported Islamist fighters of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and IS.

But they have miscalculated. Some accuse Ottoman-era Kurds of having facilitated the genocide of Christian Armenians in the early part of the 20th century, as a means through which thet could obtain a state of their own. But they were denied this. And now in the 21st century, they look certain to be denied this.

The famous maxim in international relations of their being no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent national interests may explain Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from this area of Syria. For while the national interests of the Turks, the Saudis and the Israelis are clearly defined, the national interest on the part of the United States in pursuing the policy of balkanising Syria. If the illegal presence of the United States in Syria was indeed to fight jihadis, then it would have logically sided with the Syrian administration.

Those who claim that the Kurds have been “betrayed” do so largely out of ignorance of the wider facts. And among neoconservative figures such as US Senator Marco Rubio and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the frequent references to the Kurdish role in fighting jihadis is to say the least disingenuous. Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina, was perhaps more honest when assessing that the biggest losers from Trump’s decision would be the “Kurds and Israel”.

For it has been in Israel’s interests that the campaign to destroy Syria has been waged, and not, as Graham strongly, albeit inadvertently implies, in the interests of the United States.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.